Boundary weaving : the social structure and processes of organizational boundaries

Kannegieter, Timothy Hans (2010) Boundary weaving : the social structure and processes of organizational boundaries. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

Boundaries are an important field of study because they mediate almost every aspect of organizational life. They are becoming increasingly more important as organizations change more frequently and yet, despite the endemic use of the boundary metaphor in common organizational parlance, they are poorly understood. Organizational boundaries are under-theorized and researchers in related fields often simply assume their existence, without defining them. The literature on organizational boundaries is fragmented with no unifying theoretical basis. As a result, when it is recognized that an organizational boundary is "dysfunctional". there is little recourse to models on which to base remediating action. This research sets out to develop just such a theoretical model and is guided by the general question: "What is the nature of organizational boundaries?" It is argued that organizational boundaries can be conceptualised through elements of both social structure and of social process. Elements of structure include objects, coupling, properties and identity. Social processes include objectification, identification, interaction and emergence. All of these elements are integrated by a core category, or basic social process, called boundary weaving. An organizational boundary is a complex system of objects and emergent properties that are woven together by people as they interact together, objectifying the world around them, identifying with these objects and creating couplings of varying strength and polarity as well as their own fragmented identity. Organizational boundaries are characterised by the multiplicity of interconnections, a particular domain of objects, varying levels of embodiment and patterns of interaction. The theory developed in this research emerged from an exploratory, qualitative research design employing grounded theory methodology. The field data was collected from the training headquarters of the New Zealand Army using semi-structured interviews and follow up observations. The unit of analysis is an organizational boundary. Only one research context was used because of the richness and multiplicity of organizational boundaries that were present. The model arose, grounded in the data collected, through a process of theoretical memoing and constant comparative analysis. Academic literature was used as a source of data to aid theory development and the saturation of some central categories. The final theory is classified as middle range, being substantive rather than formal, and is generalizable across medium to large organizations in low-context societies. The main limitation of the research arose from the breadth of the research with multiple lines of inquiry spanning several academic disciplines, with some relevant areas such as the role of identity and complexity being addressed at a necessarily high level. The organizational boundary theory developed by this research replaces the typology approaches, typical of previous theory on organizational boundaries and reconceptualises the nature of groups in organizations as well as the role of "boundary spanners". It also has implications for any theory that relies on the concept of boundaries, such as general systems theory. The main contribution of this research is the development of a holistic model of organizational boundaries including an explanation of the multiplicity of boundaries . no organization has a single definable boundary. A significant aspect of this contribution is the integration of aspects of complexity theory and identity theory to explain the emergence of higher-order properties of organizational boundaries and of organizational identity. The core category of "boundary weaving". is a powerful new metaphor that significantly reconceptualises the way organizational boundaries may be understood in organizations. It invokes secondary metaphors such as the weaving of an organization's "boundary fabric". and provides managers with other metaphorical perspectives, such as the management of boundary friction, boundary tension, boundary permeability and boundary stability. Opportunities for future research reside in formalising and testing the theory as well as developing analytical tools that would enable managers in organizations to apply the theory in practice.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 46613
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Nelson, Karen & Timbrell, Gregory
Keywords: boundary, boundaries, organizational boundary, organisational boundary, organizational boundaries, organisational boundaries, boundary objects, organizational identity, organizational complexity, emergence, interaction, objectification, identification, boundary weaving, knowledge management
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 25 Oct 2011 00:23
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2011 01:12

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